News / Asia

    China Debates Constitutional Government

    China's President Xi Jinping at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, May 6, 2013.
    China's President Xi Jinping at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, May 6, 2013.
    VOA News
    More than 30 years since the last draft of its Constitution, a debate is brewing in China about constitutional government and whether it could work in this country, where the Communist Party single-handedly rules.
     
    The debate over constitutional government has long been code for political reform and is a topic that, until now, was discussed more by liberals and academics. But, remarks late last year by China’s new leader Xi Jinping in support of the rule of law has rekindled the debate and raised expectations.
     
    And when conservatives launched a counter-attack, saying that constitutionalism was a western conspiracy and not important, the debate got even hotter. On China’s Twitter-like Sina Weibo microblog, the issue became a trending topic and garnered millions of comments.
     
    China’s middle class is growing and economic reforms have raised the quality of living. Chinese have more freedoms today than ever before. But still, officials are perceived as being above the law. Rising corruption, abuse of power and the loose implementation of this law are undermining the Communist Party’s legitimacy.  
     
    "The question is whether this is rule of law or the rule of man," said historian Zhou Duo.
     
    Constitution or party first

     
    Shortly after taking over late last year as secretary general of the Chinese Communist Party, President Xi Jinping said any country ruled by law should first be ruled by the Constitution.
     
    “No organization or individual has the special right to overstep the Constitution and law, and any violation of the Constitution and law must be investigated," Xi said, speaking at a celebration marking the 30th anniversary of the implementation of China’s 1982 Constitution in Beijing.
     
    Despite those words, Li Datong, a former journalist and political commentator said the gap between the law and how it is implemented in China is still very large.
     
    “Can the Supreme Court put the Party Secretary on trial? Of course it cannot. Can the Court at any level put the Party on trial? Of course it cannot. If a citizen wanted to sue Party officials, no court would listen to him," Li said.
     
    Western conspiracy
     
    Conservatives say there is no need for change.

    In one of the recent articles that helped spur the debate, the Communist Party journal Red Flag Manuscript argued that constitutionalism should never be implemented in China.
     
    “Constitutionalism belongs to capitalism and capitalist dictatorship, not to social democratic system,” the article said.
     
    The Global Times added that the resurgence of demand for constitutionalism is, in fact, a plot to overthrow the current Chinese political system.
     
    All talk, no action

     
    Despite the president’s remarks, China’s new leaders have to take steps to promote new reforms.
     
    Magazine editor/publisher Li Datong doubts they will.
     
    “The Party never thought it could be surpassed by the Constitution, that’s why it adopted a Constitution to fool the people and intellectuals,” he said.
     
    Even though Article 35 of the 1982 Constitution states that “citizens of the People's Republic of China enjoy freedom of speech, of the press, of assembly, of association, of procession and of demonstration” the party ultimately decides what can be said and when gatherings can take place.
     
    Li knows this from personal experience. In 2006, the magazine he published as an editor, Freezing Point, was shut down because it ran a series of articles on controversial topics such as demolitions and corruption.
     
    At the time, Li Datong took his case to the courts to appeal the decision.
     
    “When I sued them I knew it wouldn’t work but I needed to let people know what was going on, to record history,” he explained.
     
    Production of history

    The 1982 Constitution was penned under the leadership of reformist Party Secretary Hu Yaobang. And while it mentions in its preamble that China will adhere to people’s democratic dictatorship and follow the socialist road under the leadership of the CCP,  it does provide guarantees for basic rights.
     
    Its Article 5 states that no organization or individual enjoys the privilege of being above the law, and Article 41 states that citizens have the right to criticize any state organ or official.
     
    The 1982 Constitution is a product of history and was written at a time when China was transitioning out of Maoism and the total absence of law, said Chinese historian Zhang Lifang.
     
    “The generation of leaders of Hu Yaobang started reflecting about the importance of the rule of law, because they’d also been the victims of rule of man and were still in agony. They’d all experienced the lack of Constitution and human rights during the Cultural Revolution.”

    "Rule of Law" or "Rule by Law"
     
    But while the architects of the 1982 constitution saw the importance of a legal system, the document was more about establishing ‘rule by law’ rather than ‘rule of law.”
     
    “Marxism and Leninism is still the guiding ideology of the Chinese Communist Party, of course if we rule the country through class struggle, armed revolution, proletarian dictatorship obviously we have chaos,” said Chinese historian Zhou Duo.
     
    Marxism doesn’t consider at all the rule of law, human rights or constitution; it fiercely denies these principles, he said.
     
    “This is China’s biggest problem; this is the reason why we have severe violations of people’s rights, why we cannot implement political reforms and why China’s reform process meets so many obstacles,” Zhou said.
     
    Tiananmen dead end

    The debate has peaked as China marks 24 years since the Communist Party’s bloody crackdown on protesters in Tiananmen Square. As the anniversary approaches, some are reflecting on the leadership that initiated the process of reforms and looking to President Xi Jinping to embrace that vision once again.
     
    But change will not come easy. The stalemate that China is in now began in the late 1980s with the Party’s crackdown on pro-democracy protesters in Tiananmen.
     
    “What happened at the end of the 80s, and after the death of Hu Yaobang, changed everything. The party realized that in order to keep ruling they had to secure their right to power with an iron fist,” said Zhang Lifan.

    You May Like

    Republicans Struggle With Reality of Trump Nomination

    Despite calls for unity by presumptive presidential nominee, analysts see inevitable fragmentation of party ahead of November election and beyond

    Spanish Warrants Point to Russian Govt. Links to Organized Crime

    Links to several Russians, some of them reputedly close Putin associates, backed by ‘very strong evidence,’ Spanish judge says

    Video US Worried Political Chaos in Iraq Will Hurt IS Fight

    Iraq needs stable, central government to push back against Islamic State, US says, but others warn that Baghdad may not have unified front any time soon

    This forum has been closed.
    Comment Sorting
    Comments
         
    by: Frank from: O. County, USA
    June 04, 2013 7:39 AM
    Constitution of the communsts, by the communists, and for the communists? Isn't CPR's constituton dictatorship? CPR' leaders are well aware of that they have to eventually open China to the external world in order to survive.

    by: henry from: CA
    June 03, 2013 10:07 PM
    before political reform, people must know what is constitutionalism.
    it is hard to change thought of people. but constitutionalism is a necessary tendency if one country wants to continue to move forward. there should be no previlige in a developed country.

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Press Freedom in Myanmar Fragile, Limitedi
    X
    Katie Arnold
    May 04, 2016 12:31 PM
    As Myanmar begins a new era with a democratically elected government, many issues of the past confront the new leadership. Among them is press freedom in a country where journalists have been routinely harassed or jailed.
    Video

    Video Press Freedom in Myanmar Fragile, Limited

    As Myanmar begins a new era with a democratically elected government, many issues of the past confront the new leadership. Among them is press freedom in a country where journalists have been routinely harassed or jailed.
    Video

    Video Taliban Threats Force Messi Fan to Leave Afghanistan

    A young Afghan boy, who recently received autographed shirts and a football from his soccer hero Lionel Messi, has fled his country due to safety concerns. He and his family are now taking refuge in neighboring Pakistan. VOA's Ayaz Gul reports from Islamabad.
    Video

    Video Major Rubbish Burning Experiment Captures Destructive Greenhouse Gases

    The world’s first test to capture environmentally harmful carbon dioxide gases from the fumes of burning rubbish took place recently in Oslo, Norway. The successful experiment at the city's main incinerator plant, showcased a method for capturing most of the carbon dioxide. VOA’s Deborah Block has more.
    Video

    Video EU Visa Block Threatens To Derail EU-Turkey Migrant Deal

    Turkish citizens could soon benefit from visa-free travel to Europe as part of the recent deal between the EU and Ankara to stem the flow of refugees. In return, Turkey has pledged to keep the migrants on Turkish soil and crack down on those who are smuggling them. Brussels is set to publish its latest progress report Wednesday — but as Henry Ridgwell reports from London, many EU lawmakers are threatening to veto the deal over human rights concerns.
    Video

    Video Tensions Rising Ahead of South China Sea Ruling

    As the Philippines awaits an international arbitration ruling on a challenge to China's claims to nearly all of the South China Sea, it is already becoming clear that regardless of which way the decision goes, the dispute is intensifying. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
    Video

    Video Painting Captures President Lincoln Assassination Aftermath

    A newly restored painting captures the moments following President Abraham Lincoln’s assassination in 1865. It was recently unveiled at Ford’s Theatre in Washington, where America’s 16th president was shot. It is the only known painting by an eyewitness that captures the horror of that fateful night. VOA’s Julie Taboh tells us more about the painting and what it took to restore it to its original condition.
    Video

    Video Elephant Summit Results in $5M in Pledges, Presidential Support

    Attended and supported by three African presidents, a three-day anti-poaching summit has concluded in Kenya, resulting in $5 million in pledges and a united message to the world that elephants are worth more alive than dead. The summit culminated at the Nairobi National Park with the largest ivory burn in history. VOA’s Jill Craig attended the summit and has this report about the outcomes.
    Video

    Video Displaced By War, Syrian Artist Finds Inspiration Abroad

    Saudi-born Syrian painter Mohammad Zaza is among the millions who fled their home for an uncertain future after Syria's civil war broke out. Since fleeing Syria, Zaza has lived in Lebanon, Egypt, Jordan and now Turkey where his latest exhibition, “Earth is Blue like an Orange,” opened in Istanbul. He spoke with VOA about how being displaced by the Syrian civil war has affected the country's artists.
    Video

    Video Ethiopia’s Drought Takes Toll on Children

    Ethiopia is dealing with its worst drought in decades, thanks to El Nino weather patterns. An estimated 10 million people urgently need food aid. Six million of them are children, whose development may be compromised without sufficient help, Marthe van der Wolf reports for VOA from the Metahara district.
    Video

    Video Little Havana - a Slice of Cuban Culture in Florida

    Hispanic culture permeates everything in Miami’s Little Havana area: elderly men playing dominoes as they discuss politics, cigar rollers deep at work, or Cuban exiles talking with presidential candidates at a Cuban coffee window. With the recent rapprochement between Cuba and United States, one can only expect stronger ties between South Florida and Cuba.
    Video

    Video California Republicans Weigh Presidential Choices Amid Protests

    Republican presidential candidates have been wooing local party leaders in California, a state that could be decisive in selecting the party's nominee for U.S. president. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports delegates to the California party convention have been evaluating choices, while front-runner Donald Trump drew hundreds of raucous protesters Friday.
    Video

    Video ‘The Lights of Africa’ - Through the Eyes of 54 Artists

    An exhibition bringing together the work of 54 African artists, one from each country, is touring the continent after debuting at COP21 in Paris. Called "Lumières d'Afrique," the show centers on access to electricity and, more figuratively, ideas that enlighten. Emilie Iob reports from Abidjan, the exhibition's first stop.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora